In Honor of World Cup Brazil: Pralus Bresil Dark Chocolate

Pralus Brazil Dark Chocolate

Getting excited for the Brazil – Colombia match by tasting some single-origin Brazil dark chocolate.

Although I’ve gotten over the loss of  USA to Belgium this week and come to accept  Klinsmann’s vision that this will be a long journey to raise the state of US soccer, I’m still feeling a void – which team do I back now?  The only decent thing to do, for now, is to root for our World Cup 2014 hosts – Brazil.  So to get psyched up for the Brazil – Colombia match, I’m tasting some single-origin Brazil dark chocolate. Pralus Bresil Dark Chocolate 75% is one of several organic dark chocolates made by the French chocolatier  Francois Pralus.  I’m a fan of his work – especially his Chuao bar and perhaps the  only edible 100% cacao bar on the market – the nutty,  unctuous Pralus Le 100%.  For the Pralus Bresil 75%, he takes single-origin beans from Brazil and works them into beautiful chocolate in Southern France.  Here are my impressions.

Pralus Brazil Organic Dark Chocolate

Pralus surprised me with moderate complexity, fine aroma and good fruit with this organic dark chocolate bar.

WHAT:  Pralus Bresil Dark Chocolate.   75% Cacao.  100 g (3.5 oz). Ingredients: Cacao, Pure cane sugar, pure cocoa butter, GMO–free for soy lecithin.  Where to buy. WHEN:  July 4,  2014 OVERALL RATING: 89. AROMA:  Red fruit, strawberry, orange, lime, brown sugar. INITIAL IMPRESSIONS:  Watermelon, lime, red fruit. MIDDLE TASTE: The chocolate quickly but briefly goes flat before unfolding into nuts, bourbon, cafe-con-leche. FINISH: Caramel, followed by shallow waves of mushrooms, light coffee and nuts with a dim background of citrus fruit. TEXTURE: Very smooth, yielding, melts uniformly. The thick bar is a bit chewy in a satisfying way. LAST BITE:  This chocolate bar uses Forestero beans from Brazil.  Forestero is known as a relatively simple bulk cacao  bean, but like people, such generalizations based upon genetics are not fair and certainly not always accurate.  While not a massively complex bar, this chocolate has much more complexity than the average Forestero chocolate – especially some I’ve tried coming out of Ghana or Congo.  When I opened he bar, I expected the often flat cashew aroma typical of Forestero beans, but my nose was hit with more lively red fruit and citrus. I was also impressed by the way the bar was not monochromatic, but moved around a spectrum of fruit, and nuts never reaching bitterness.  Putting Pralus Chuao aside, this is my favorite Pralus bar so far. Nice Work! After this tasting, I’m feeling inspired for Brazil.  If you’re also feeling inspired by single-origin Brazil dark chocolate, you can also check out Zotter Labooko Brazil dark chocolate 70%.

Update: since I had written this post, Brazil beat Colombia  2-1 in the quarter finals and lost to Germany in the semi-final round (enough said). They were finally defeated by Netherlands 3-0 in a match that decided the third-place title.

Notes: 1) World Cup Brazil is a trademark of FIFA. The author has no connection with FIFA. 2) I paid for this chocolate myself.

Divine 70% Dark Chocolate with Raspberries

Divine 70% with Raspberries

Fair trade chocolate at an accessible price.

If I have to choose between organic chocolate and fair trade, I will usually choose organic.  Fair trade is a complicated subject, but the chocolate that I eat is almost always premium bars meaning the chocolate maker is paying top prices for the beans – well over the fair trade minimum.  In essence, I’ve got fair trade covered when I buy premium bars such as those by Amano, Pralus, Zotter and Original Beans, to name a few.

I understand not everyone wants to shell out five to ten bucks for a bar, even if it’s the good stuff.  If you’re looking for value, you might have to go with something made from more of a bulk bean such as the Forestero variety that’s ubiquitous in Ghana.   Thanks to Divine chocolate you can pick up some dark and accessible goodness for about  four dollars.  It’s not organic, but at least it’s fair trade.

I had run out of chocolate while on a little vacation trip last year and picked up this Divine Chocolate bar to keep me going.  Here’s what I found.

WHAT:  Divine 70% Dark Chocolate with Raspberries.  3.5 oz..  Ingredients: Fairtrade cocoa mass, Fairtrade sugar, Fairtrade cocoa butter, Freeze dried raspberry granules 3%, Emulsifier: soya lecithin (non GM), Natural raspberry flavor, Fairtrade vanilla.

Where to buy: Ten Thousand Villages (availability may vary by store) and some natural foods stores.

Divine 70% dark chocolate with raspberries

There’s more than a generous helping of raspberries in this dark chocolate.

WHEN:  July,  2013.

OVERALL RATING: 79.

Aroma – as much raspberries as chocolate.  Butter, light roast, ham, rubber.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS:  Caramel and, of course, raspberry.

MIDDLE TASTE:  The raspberry flavor gets more tart in the middle with some acidity to balance out the chocolate.  The base chocolate is relatively simple, but with decent structure.  It takes a lot to stand up to the tartness of the raspberries and this chocolate, while not mellow, is not quite strong enough to win the fight.

FINISH:  The chocolate comes back on top at the end with warm notes turning into bread and butter flavors.

TEXTURE: There are tons of raspberries here, as there should be to give an interesting crunchy texture that turns smooth with a few seeds left at the end.

LAST BITE: A funny thing happens when dried raspberries combine with chocolate – it creates a sort of artificial candy scent.  To be clear, there is nothing artificial in this bar, but if you’re like me, you will feel this unnaturalness about it.  Later as it all melts and the raspberries come to life, it feels more real – like the mouthful of chocolate coated raspberries that it is.

I have mixed feelings about chocolate from Ghana since it’s been reported that some of the farming practices there are not very sustainable, let’s say.  But I do like that Divine gives partial company ownership to the farmers so that they can share in the profits and we get a decent bar at a decent price.  If they can find a way to clean up the farming practices in Ghana so their more environmentally and people friendly, we’ll have a win-win-win.  Ghana produces tons of cacao beans every year, so I think we’d best be patient and support movements in the right direction such as Divine Chocolate.

If you’re looking for value chocolate that’s organic, you might also want to try the prolific Theo Chocolate.

Note: I paid for this chocolate myself.

Antidote Organic Dark Chocolate

Anitdote Ginger and Goldenberry chocolate

Anitdote Ginger and Goldenberry Dark Chocolate – 77% Cacao

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I thought I would review some chocolate with a distinct feminine vibe.  Antidote Chocolate blends organic and raw dark chocolate with innovative flavorings such as lavender and red salt.  This is not the first chocolate bar line to focus on exotically flavored chocolate, but most of those bars are milk chocolate with too much sugar and cacao of unknown origin.  Antidote Chocolate has gone somewhere completely different –  taking single-origin organic beans and working their culinary magic to produce fresh new flavor combinations.

The creative force behind Antidote is founder Red Thalhammer, a successful communications designer with experience in packaging design for fine foods.  Red conceived the flavors and oversees the whole process from sourcing of beans to making of the bars.  It’s all wrapped in artful packaging extolling the  virtues of women.  Each bar is named for a Greek goddess and embodies her admirable qualities.  By keeping the cacao % high – at least 77%, she respects a women’s desire to stay healthy and indulge at the same time.  She also employs an unusual recipe of 50% raw cacao and 50% roasted to optimize the health benefits and flavor.

I approached the tasting with some trepidation for fear that I might experience a Mel Gibson-like transformation as in the movie “What Women Want.”  You know, he plays the ad executive who tries out products in a Women’s market research package and in a freak accident, gains the ability to hear women’s thoughts.  I mean, as much as I would love to exploit the skill of reading women’s minds, I’m not sure I want to know everything my wife is thinking after ten years of marriage.  Thankfully, that’s all fiction, so I went ahead and ate the chocolate.

The back side of Antidote Ginger plus Goldenberry dark chocolate

With a generous helping of ginger and goldenberries, you won’t be searching for flavor in this bar.

WHAT:  Antidote Ginger + Goldenberry Dark Chocolate.  A.K.A. Aletheia: Greek goddess of truth and wisdom.  77% Cacao. A blend of raw and roasted beans.  50 g (1.8 oz). Ingredients: cacao beans, whole cane sugar, gooseberry, ginger, soy lecithin (gmo-free).  Dairy free, gluten free and vegan.

Where to buy Antidote Ginger + Goldenberry Dark Chocolate.

WHEN:  April 14, 2013

OVERALL RATING: 88.

AROMA:  Orange blossom, wine, citrus, cream.  There’s more balance of cocoa aroma than with the next bar.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS:  Immediate tart fruit from generous helping of goldenberry sitting on the outside of the bar, raisin, ginger,cherry.

MIDDLE TASTE:  It’s quite an adventure – tart berries, lively, but not burning ginger, then the chocolate becomes fluid just before the fruit and ginger form a compote in your mouth, with notes of apricot and prune.  I tasted a piece that was only chocolate and found warm lavender notes with prune and raisin.

FINISH:  You’re left with some ginger and lavender notes at end.  The finish is overall very clean with not much chocolate at end.  Still not bitter.

TEXTURE: Chewy with plenty of fruit.

The Coffee + Cardamom bar typifies the latent feminine virtues of power and passion.

The Coffee + Cardamom bar typifies the latent feminine virtues of power and passion.

WHAT:  Antidote Coffee + Cardamom Dark Chocolate.  A.K.A. Kakia: wicked Greek goddess of vice – Strong and passionate.  77% Cacao. A blend of raw and roasted beans.  50 g (1.8 oz).  Ingredients:  cacao beans, whole cane sugar, coffee beans, cardamom, soy lecithin (gmo-free).  Dairy free, gluten free and vegan.

Where to buy Antidote Coffee + Cardamom  Dark Chocolate.

WHEN:  April 14, 2013

OVERALL RATING: 80.

AROMA: Heady, awakening, earthy, burnt parchment, aromatic herbs, molasses, anise, cardamom.  The aroma was fantastic.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS:  All cardamom.

MIDDLE TASTE:  Grilled meat, mouth-filling roast, aromatics, and raisins.

FINISH:  You get a pop of sweetness as the coffee and sugar compete then lingering coffee and cardamom at the end.

TEXTURE: Expect some residual grittiness from the coffee and cardamom towards the end.  This should be no surprise as ground spices are used rather than extracts of some sort.

LAST BITE:  I didn’t find the Coffee + Cardamom very feminine, but that might just reflect my preconceived notion of womanly chocolate.  The coffee doesn’t show up much until the end, which is fine because it doesn’t compete with the chocolate.  Still, this bar is full of bold flavors and potent aroma in keeping with its name sake – the strong and passionate Kakia.  I get it.

The Ginger plus Goldenberry bar was the clear winner in my eyes – the bright, tart fruit was potent and blended well with the ultra dark bar.  I’ve tasted many ginger chocolate bars and I’ve found that the marriage of flavors works only sometimes.  When it doesn’t work, it tastes a tad bit like, sorry, vomit.  When it does work, it’s a fantastic combination.  Maybe the key is the high cacao of the Antidote bars keeping the ginger in check or the tartness of the goldenberries helping to integrate it all.  Either way, it’s great stuff.

Antidote Chocolate avoids pompousness of some culinary-based chocolate bars and brings it down to earth while managing to be hip without being pretentious.  After all, this is single-origin, organic and fair trade chocolate – how much more grounded can it be?  This is chocolate worth trying for any healthy mom or woman or…why not…man.

NOTE: These bars were sent to me for free by Antidote Chocolate.

A Tale of One Village and Five Chocolates: Your Guide to the Chocolate of Chuao

Chuao Dark Chocolate

Chuao Bar Packages

Five of the best chocolates made from Chuao beans

There is perhaps no other cacao producing region of the world more famously extolled or more storied than Chuao Village, Venezuela [3].  Year after year, chocolate makers have fought over the precious few beans produced from a small group of growers who are proud to be part of making the world’s best chocolate.  What makes these beans so special is the Criollo lineage and a small cooperative of producers who are serious about maintaining tradition – centuries-old cultivation methods, strict fermentation procedures and beans dried in the sun on the square in front of the old village church.

For years, the highly respected French chocolate house, Valrhona had locked up most of the world’s supply of Chuao beans.  I supposed they deserved this honor since they were the pioneers of single-origin chocolate and were working hard to secure the best beans they could find.  But their fate would soon change as the world grew hungrier for exceptional chocolate.  Around 1991, Alessio Tessieri and his sister Cecilia paid a visit to Valrhona in an attempt to secure chocolate couverture for their Italian confections business, Amedei Tuscany.  After all, Valrhona operated a world-renown baking and confection school focused on chocolate and was known as a supplier to serious chefs world-wide.

The meeting didn’t last very long as Alessio and Cecilia were sent home empty-handed.  Mort Rosenblum retells the moment in his book, Chocolate, A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light [2]:

Cecilia…still bristles as she recalls the meeting thirteen years later.  “They told us that they did not think Italians were ready for their products, and they were not sure we could do them justice,” she said.  “Right then and there, it was war.”

From that point on, Alessio set out on a mission to source his own beans and win over the Chuao producers – working with them to solve technical problems and offering to pay higher prices for their beans.  After repeated trips over a period of months, Amedei had won.  Letters went out from the Chuao producers’ cooperative to Valrhona, Pralus and anyone else using their beans:  Chuao beans would go exclusively to Amedei [2].

Chuao Chocolate Stack

The thickness of the bar affects the melt on the tongue and skews the perception of texture. From the top: Domori, Amano, Amedei, Bonnat, and Pralus.

So the tables turned and Amedei locked up Chuao for a several years, but I imagine at some point the Chuao elders said enough’s enough.  Now, they’ve started selling to anyone worthy of making chocolate from their cherished beans – a smart move given this can only support healthy prices.  Good for the people of Chuao and good for chocolate connoisseurs around the world since now we have more choice and more variety of styles to choose from.

THE BEST OF CHUAO CHOCOLATE

Today, there are at least six to eight chocolate makers offering Chuao bars.  Some may use beans strictly from the Chuao Village and others may use beans grown in the greater region close to the village.   I’m not interested in spending time researching or arguing about the purity of the beans, exact location of the trees, who harvested their beans by horseback or who went by canoe.  Instead, I can taste a handful of bars and get my answers to the question I care about most:  which taste best?  Yes, I do care about bean origin and species, but I’ve decided to spend my time tasting.

Chuao Chocolate Round Up

Clockwise from top: Amano, Bonnat, Pralus, Amedei, and Domori in the center.  The nicks, scrapes and cracks are from my marathon tasting session.

For this ambitious review, I tried five different bars, some of the best and most widely available.  You can see from the table below that the prices don’t vary too much, but be careful to understand the size of bar you are paying for.

CHOCOLATE % CACAO LOCATION OF CHOCOLATE MAKER PRICE PER 50g BAR SIZE
Amano Chuao Reserve Dark Chocolate 70% Utah, USA $10.00 50g
Amedei Chuao 70% Tuscany, Italy $14.50 50g
Bonnat Chuao Village 75% Voiron, France $11.00 100g
Domori Chuao Criollo 70% None, Italy $16.00 25g
Pralus Chuao 75% Roannes, France $10.00 50g

Amano Chuao Reserve Dark Chocolate

OVERALL RATING: 98. Where to buy.

AROMA: Floral, earthy, pepper, ginger, strawberry, apple and a bit of tobacco and leather.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Floral and then fruit: grapefruit and pineapple.  This may be the only chocolate I have seen with not one, but two waves of flavor up front – this is complex stuff!

MIDDLE TASTE:  Swirling waves of fruit and florals from the middle to the finish: raspberry, lavender, tangy pineapple, strawberry, meringue and honey.  You don’t need to search around for flavor; it’s obvious.

FINISH:  Long on lavender and florals.  Orange blossom, lime, mint and ginger.  Some straw earth notes rather than butter that you might find at the end of some bars, but it’s all good.

TEXTURE: Amano Smooth.

Amedei Chuao Dark Chocolate

OVERALL RATING: 93.  Where to buy.

AROMA: Pretty closed to start.  Croissants, earth, malt, butter and light blueberry.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Delicate, subtle fruit, cherry.  Amedei is feminine and elegant.

MIDDLE TASTE:  Caramel, café-au-lait, molasses, marshmallow.  There’s never any acid.  This bar evolves slowly allowing you to grasp the flavors one by one.

FINISH:  Banana, light nuts.  The finish goes on almost forever and then dissipates into thin air like a fog slowing rising from a field of grass.

TEXTURE: Perfectly smooth.

Bonnat Chuao Village Dark Chocolate

OVERALL RATING:  91. Where to buy.

AROMA: Cranberry, orange, grapes, and florals.  Very unique.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Plums, candied fruit, apricot and a flash of orange.  The only fruit is up front – a flash and then it moves on to butter.

MIDDLE TASTE:  Nuts and  butter.  There is almost no distinction between the middle and finish.  Nuts slowly turn to buttery notes which go on forever.  There’s a persistent richness like a rich flourless cake.

FINISH:  All cashew and butter.  Luscious and opulent.

TEXTURE: A little chewy up front turning all smooth.  This perception is created, in part, by the thicker bar.

Domori Chuao DARK CHOCOLATE

OVERALL RATING: 99. Where to buy.

AROMA:  Bam! As you tear open the package, the aroma is exploding out of the foil. You’re hit with strong cacao fruit, oak, red wine, cedar and green apple.  Domori Chuao shows a very exciting forward nose.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Pineapple and cedar.

MIDDLE TASTE:  Riesling wine, red fruit, roses.  The fruit acid note comes through in waves throughout, repeatedly rising and falling.  Macaroon and nutty notes evoke warmth.  They done a good job working out the bitter while preserving the fruit.

FINISH:  Chewy butter.  Really satisfying moderately complex finish.  Raspberry comes back on the finish.  There’s a unique coating buttery feel at the end that most people will really enjoy.

TEXTURE: Smooth and luscious with a very pleasing smooth melt.

Pralus Chuao Dark Chocolate

OVERALL RATING: 97. Where to buy.

AROMA: Toast, roast, grapes, plums, raisins, light roasted ham.  The aroma on the Pralus is potent and intoxicating.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Citrus notes go into a nutty lull.  The citrus notes are short-lived.

MIDDLE TASTE:  More fruit than Amedei.  Pralus is doing a heavier roast for sure. More overtly sexy than elegant.

FINISH:  There’s a complex two-part finish.  Part 1:  red fruit, strawberry, grapes, watermelon, and plums.  Part 2:  green apple hangs in back while buttery cacao appears.  Sometimes I got some vegetable notes like mushrooms that I’m not fond of, but this is most likely due to a heavier cocoa butter content. The holy grail in wine is complexity a long unoffensive finish.  It should be the same for chocolate, so why would I want to “tame” a chocolate at the expense of losing all this.  Pralus keeps all the stuff I want.  This is a great finish.

TEXTURE: Not ultra-ultra smooth like Amedei, but still very nice and chewy in a satisfying way.  Again, the thicker bar causes the chocolate to melt slower on your tongue creating a perception of chewiness vs. smoothness. At the risk of being too simplistic, here’s a quick summary.  Don’t get too caught up in the numbers – anything in the 90′s is exceptional:

CHOCOLATE OVERALL RATING DISTINGUISHED FOR IN A WORD
Domori 99 Aroma, Complexity, & Finish Lucious
Amano 98 Complexity Fruity
Pralus 97 Finish Rich
Amedei 93 Texture & Length of finish Balanced
Bonnat 92 Opulence Ethereal

LAST BITE I found that there were two main dimensions of taste that distinguished the bars:

Assertive vs. Tame and More Buttery vs.  Less Buttery

An assertive bar is going to have more forward flavor – more obvious fruit, acidity, and masculine notes such as leather and coffee.   A tame bar is going to be more elegant, nuanced and feminine.  Both can have complexity of flavor, but the flavors are going to be deeper and obvious for chocolate on the assertive end of the scale.  Now this is a critical point: I prefer more assertive bars and this probably affects my ratings.  There are many of you that want to avoid any kind of acidity – you’re looking for perfect delicate smoothness in a bar that floats above your tongue.  If so, Amedei and Bonnat are for you.  My wife found the Bonnat  sublime.   The Bonnat is super-tame almost “Swiss-style” chocolate where there is virtually no acidity or bitterness left.

On the other hand, you might be the type that likes big red wines packed with fruit –  Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Red Zinfandel - or maybe a heavier roast on your coffee.   If so, I’ll bet you’d go for Amano or Pralus.  Domori is a sort of happy medium.  In fact, the wine analogy works exceptionally well for Chuao chocolate because the most common flavor note throughout all the bars was grapes.

Chuao chocolates compared for assertiveness and buttery notes

These chocolates can be compared on the Assertiveness and Buttery scales. There is no perfect sweet spot on this graph – it’s a matter of what you like.

What I call “Buttery” is not about the texture of the chocolate, but the sense of creaminess or lusciousness.  It can’t be explained simply by cocoa butter content since, for example, Pralus has the habit of going for higher cocoa butter, but his chocolate sits lower on my Buttery scale.  It’s more about your awareness of the cream / butter notes over other dimensions such as roast, nuts, coffee, etc.

Now for the obvious question – which is my favorite? This is a bit like asking what’s my favorite wine – it depends on which day you ask me. I don’t like to drink the same thing every day and I don’t feel like the same chocolate everyday (surprise – I don’t eat chocolate or drink wine everyday either).  In line with my love of really robust, assertive bars, I have to give a nod to Amano for the complexity they’ve achieved.  It’s near the top for me.  The Domori gave a unique and exciting ride with incredible aroma and enough complexity to show that it’s a world-class chocolate.

Still, my wife was so impressed by the tamer bars that I think that’s the way to go if you want something more elegant.  Most women I’ve asked have been enormously pleased with the Bonnat and Amedei’s reputation speaks for itself without my help.  Should you decide to try them all in one sitting, I recommend starting with Bonnat and working your way up the assertiveness scale to Pralus last.  Have fun and invite some help!

Notes:

[1] I paid for this the Amano, Amedei, Bonnat and Pralus bars myself.   The Domori bar was a sample provided by the distributor.

[2] Chocolate.  A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light. Mort Rosenblum, North Point Press, New York.  2005.

[3] Chuao is pronounced “Chew-WOW” [4] Why is this post so long?  Look, I ate five of the world’s most important chocolate bars.  I needed to say something about them, OK?

Taza vs. Trader Joes Stone Ground Organic Chocolate

Has Trader Joe’s Copied Taza Stone Ground Chocolate?

Trade Joe's Dark chocolate vs. Taza Stone Ground Organic Chocolate

The new Trader Joe’s bar bears a striking resemblance to Taza’s stone ground organic bar

I really wasn’t planning to write about Taza Chocolate again so soon, but this summer something unexpected showed up in our local Trader Joe’s.  My wife soon came home with a bar of the round stone ground chocolate bars – immediately recognizable as a knock-off of Taza’s product.  At this point, I’d already decided to take a break from blogging for the summer so I could relax a bit and catch my breath, so I just shrugged it off.  Sure, I tasted a bit. “It’s edible” was my first reaction and left it at that.

Then along came a friend who, as soon as I stepped into his house, yanked a one of the new Trader Joe’s bars from the freezer and trust it towards my face: “Have you tasted this stuff?  It’s crap, right?”  “It’s edible,” I repeated chomping on a cold morsel, “but look guys:  the Trader Joes bar is $4.00 and the Taza Mexicano bars are $4.50 online.  Just buy Taza for another 50 cents, enjoy the real thing and be done with it.” I left it at that.

Yet another friend broke the news to me later in the summer and reminded me that companies sometimes private label their own product for sale at TJ’s and you would never know because everyone involved is sworn to secrecy (in other words, Taza may be making the TJ’s bars).  OK, OK!  I’ve decided to solve this mystery once and for all.

Is Trader Joe’s STONE GROUND ORGANIC CHOCOLATE as good as Taza’S?

Trader Joe’s has launched two new bars:  a 70% Extra Dark Chocolate and a Salt and Pepper Dark Chocolate.  Like Taza, they are made in small batches in a  rustic, stone ground style.  Like Taza, they are certified organic and kosher Pareve.  Like Taza, there are two round disks in a printed paper wrapper.  On the other hand, Trader Joe’s makes no mention of fair trade, but Taza is using a Direct Trade model, working directly with growers and paying fairly for their cacao beans.

If you’ve never tried stone-ground chocolate, don’t expect it to melt in your mouth – it’s not that kind of chocolate.  The texture is rustic, course and grainy.  If you are a meat and potatoes person who doesn’t like to try anything new, this may not be for you.  On the other hand, ironically, I find the rustic texture to be both adventurous and endearing – a kind of genuine, down-to earth comfort food that you might find in a far away place.  What you get for this unusual texture is a less processed food that expresses more of the original flavor of the cacao bean.

Taza Stone Ground Organic Chocolate Vanilla Bean vs. Trader Joe’s Stone Ground Extra Dark Chocolate

What: Taza Stone Ground Vanilla Bean Mexicano (55% cacao).  This is the closest Taza get’s to a “plain” chocolate disk.  Ingredients:   organic cacao beans, organic cane sugar, organic whole vanilla beans, and Trader Joe’s Extra Dark Chocolate – 70% cacao.  Ingredients:   organic cocoa nibs, organic cane sugar.

Where to buy Taza Stone Ground Organic Chocolate Online.

WHEN:  November 3, 2012

OVERALL RATING:  TJ’s: 69   Taza: 80

AROMA:  TJ’s:  At first a familiar Taza-like aroma, plus burlap and pine.  Drier and more subdued than Taza.  Taza:  Berry, caramel, butter scotch,  a hit of evergreen, with light florals.  More fruit than TJ’s.

INITIAL TASTE:  TJ’s:  More flat from the start, all the way through.  Could this be because of the lack of vanilla?  No peaks and valleys.  Just a touch of coffee at the start.  Taza:  Caramel, red berry, vanilla.

MIDDLE TASTE:  TJ’s:  Not much happening here.  Grass, mushroom. A little fruit.  Taza:  Strawberry, cantaloupe melon.

FINISH:  TJ’s:  Celery, green beans, green tomatoes, bell pepper and oak.  A spike of acid at the end.  Taza:  Ends in warm caramel and marshmallow with cocoa notes always in the background.

Texture:  both are typical of stone ground chocolate – rustic, grainy and crystalline.  Taza is a little more so due to the higher sugar content.

Yea, I liked the Taza better, much better.  The Trade Joe’s chocolate was flat with dull flavors all the way through.  I much prefer a roller coaster ride than a drag race.  Taza had more dimension.  Let’s move onto the flavored bars.

Taza vs. Trader Joe's Salt & Pepper Organic Dark Chocolate

Trader Joe’s had a better showing with their salt & pepper bar, but Taza still edged them out with a more vibrant and intense flavor profile overall.

What: Taza Stone Ground Salt & Pepper Mexicano (55% cacao).  Ingredients:   organic cacao beans, organic cane sugar, organic black pepper, kosher salt. Trader Joe’s Stone Ground Salt & Pepper Chocolate (54% cacao min.).  Ingredients:  organic cocoa nibs, organic cane sugar, organic cracked black pepper, kosher salt.

Where to buy Taza Stone Ground Organic Chocolate Online.

WHEN:  November 3, 2012

OVERALL RATING:  TJ’s: 73  Taza: 80

AROMA:  TJ’s:  Sour apple, light peanut.  Taza:  Bloody Mary mix, olives and coconut.

INITIAL TASTE:  TJ’s:  Apple, pear.  Taza:  Butter, toffee.

MIDDLE TASTE:  TJ’s:  Cinnamon toast.  Taza:  Buttered bread, roast, almonds, black tea.

FINISH:  TJ’s:  Sourdough bread, cinnamon, burnt cheese.  Pepper appears here, but not as intense or savory as Taza.  Taza:  Bacon, pepper.  The pepper comes on strongest at the end and, along with the salt, brings a savory effect.

Texture:  both have a similar rustic quality, but Taza seemed to crumble at the edges a bit (something I had not seen before except in this one bar).

I have to admit that TJ’s manufacturer did a decent job with this one.  The Taza chocolate was better, but I could eat the TJ’s salt and pepper bar if I had to (well, it’s been discontinued now, so I can’t).  The Taza was more vibrant and savory.

The local Whole Foods is charging $5.99 for Taza Mexicanos, but you don't need to pay any more than $4.50.

The local Whole Foods is charging $5.99 for Taza Mexicanos, but you don’t need to pay any more than $4.50.

LAST BITE:  Look:  I have nothing against Trader Joe’s – I’m one of their best customers, but I think it’s unnecessary to compromise on taste if the price is more or less the same.  I paid $4.00 for each bar at my local TJ’s, while the Taza bars can easily be found online for $4.50 at NewLeaf Chocolates.  Now, I did find that Whole Foods was selling the Taza bars for a whopping $5.99, but there’s no need to pay that much and it may be some kind of a Boston-area price due to the strong cult following here.

In the end, Taza is better and has a wider range of flavors and bars to explore.  If you really want to experience the best of Taza, try their 60,  70, 80 and 87% cacao  bars (although they have a similar texture to the Mexicano disks, they are refined a bit more and have a different proportion of cocoa butter to cocoa solids).  Then you can get a better feel for the real point of a stone ground bar – preserving the bright fruit flavors of the original cacao bean.

POSTSCRIPT – July 2013

Thanks for all the comments on this post.  Several people seem certain that Taza, in fact, had made the now discontinued TJ’s bars.  This is a distinct possibility as I pointed out earlier in the article, but nearly impossible to prove either way. I don’t consider myself to be a journalist, but I do need to deal with facts and that’s a fact that I cannot verify.  What’s important to note is that the bars did taste different, if for no other reason than they used different ingredients and had a different cacao content.

Lastly, there were some reports that Trader Joe’s was using Taza’s “Direct Trade” claims in their label – certain proof that Taza made the bars.  Not true.  I scanned the back label from what might be last remaining TJ’s Salt and Pepper bar in the free world.  No mention of direct trade.  So for now, that’s that.

Back label of Trader Joe's Chocolate

There’s nothing about Direct Trade on Trader Joe’s chocolate label. Direct Trade is a model created and used exclusively by Taza where they purchase beans directly from the producers.

NOTES:

[1]  I paid for all of these bars myself.

Triple Chocolate Raspberry Ice Cream Recipe

Organic Chocolate Raspberry Ice Cream

The richness of three chocolates and the textures of berries plus cacao nibs has made this our favorite summer indulgence

The best thing about having a home ice cream maker is not only can you dream up some remarkably imaginative flavors, you can also control every ingredient you use.  A home ice cream maker isn’t about saving money – it’s about unleashing this creative licence and using exotic and top quality  ingredients.  For instance, you can bring into play completely organic ingredients or draw from what’s local and fresh.  Most ingredients I use in this recipe are not particularly exotic, except the cacao nibs.  I’ll tell you where to easily find those.

Now, I’m an extremely busy guy, so I like simplicity.  This recipe is easy, but still results an a decadent, super-rich ice cream that everyone loves.  Many chocolate ice cream recipes ask you to start by making an egg custard – not a complex process, but one that involves standing over a stove and eventually cleaning a pan.  Forget about it.  Eggs will make the ice cream richer, yes, but we’re talking about triple chocolate here!  This is rich enough, trust me.  No eggs required.

Organic Triple Chocolate Raspberry Ice Cream

Mashing Rasberries in a bowl

Mashing the raspberries in a bowl releases more intense flavors into the ice cream

You don’t need to make this organic, but it’s so easy to do, why not?  When I went shopping, the supermarket had organic raspberries for the same price as conventional, a no-brainer.  We also have a local farm where organic raspberries will be ready to pick later in the summer.  Try to take advantage of this healthy option in your area, if you can.

The links below show you where you can get top quality organic chocolate ingredients.  We will use three types of “chocolate” to make this ice cream:

Triple Chocolate Ice Cream Key Ingredients

Three types of chocolate make for intriguing texture and dimension. Clockwise from top: organic cacao nibs, organic cocoa powder (unsweetened) and organic dark chocolate, 82% cacao.

1) Organic cocoa powder.  I used Grenada Chocolate Company organic cocoa.  They grow the cacao on the island of Grenada and use a low pressure cocoa press for the best flavor.

2) Dark chocolate – 70% cacao or higher.  I used 82% dark chocolate from Grenada Chocolate Company.  There is plenty of sugar in the ice cream, so go with at least 70% on the chocolate.  This was plenty sweet even for my four-year old.

3) Organic cacao nibs.  Cacao nibs are ground up bits of roasted cacao beans.  Nibs are the main starting material for a chocolate bar, so you can think of them as a “raw” form of chocolate.  In fact, I used Pacari Organic Chocolate raw nibs for their light nutty flavor and un-roasted flavor profile [2].

What you’ll need:

  • 4 ounce container of fresh organic raspberries.   Frozen is fine – use about 2/3 cup in that case.
  • 1 cup organic half-and-half.
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened organic cocoa powder.
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract.
  • 2/3 cup organic sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 oz. organic dark chocolate 70% cacao or higher.  If you use Grenada Chocolate Company, this is about 1/2 a bar.
  • 2 tablespoons organic cacao nibs.  I recommend Pacari Raw Organic Cacao Nibs.
  • A home ice cream maker.  I used the Cuisinart ICE-21.  If you’re also using this particular model, I’ll give you a few extra tips at the end of the recipe.

Preparation

The final cream mixture

Use the same bowl and whisk to stir in everything but the chopped chocolate and nibs. Cover this bowl and chill.

Chop up the raspberries into quarters and put them in a medium bowl.  You might think that whole raspberries will look more impressive in the ice cream, but it’s better to mash them up to release the juice.  This will result in a much more flavorful treat as the raspberry flavors meld beautifully into the cream.  Mash the raspberries in the bottom of the bowl with a whisk until they are uniformly mashed up.  Remember – keep it simple.  Keep the food processor in the cabinet.  One bowl. One whisk.  Less to clean. Now stir in the half-and-half, sugar, vanilla, and cocoa powder [1].  Once all the cocoa powder looks wet, stir in the cream.

Cover the bowl and put the mixture in the refrigerator for 1 to  1 1/2 hours.  In the mean time, chop the dark chocolate into pieces about the half the size of a pea.  I recommend a heavy, kind-of clunky knife for the job.

Take the chilled cream mixture and pour it into the machine and start churning.  After only about 5 minutes of churning or when you see a slight thickening of the mixture, slowly pour in the chopped chocolate and nibs.  Depending upon your machine, you should see the whole thing set up and expand in about 20 minutes or less.  The ice cream will still be relatively soft, but perfectly ready to eat now.  Put the rest into a tight-sealing container in the freezer and you will have hard ice cream in four to six hours.

My wife preferred the softer ice cream right out of the machine with the contrast of textures – soft raspberries, crunchy, but melt-able chocolate and grainy nibs.  I liked the dense-packed version that comes from freezing.  Either way, this stuff didn’t last long in our house.

Tips on Using the Cuisinart ICE-21 Ice Cream Maker

In some of the online reviews for this product, it seems a few people had trouble getting the machine to work well.  I’ve never had any real problems, so I’d like to share some ideas on how to get good results:

  1. Freeze the freezer bowl for at least four hours.  Overnight would be best.
  2. Make sure to place the freezer bowl in the bottom of the freezer so it’s resting against the bottom surface.  Placing it furthest from the door should help too.
  3. Don’t take the freezer bowl out of the freezer until just before you are ready to pour the ingredients in.
  4. Chill the mixed ingredients in the refrigerator for more than an hour before churning.  If you have room, put them in the freezer for an additional 10-15 minutes.  When I did this, the ice cream set up in the machine in only 10 minutes!  Be careful not to leave the mixture in the freezer for too long – you really don’t want it to freeze before churning.
  5. If you’re working in a real hot room, place a small dish over the hole in the top of the machine and put a few ice cubes in the dish as things are churning.
If you take some care to make sure things are really cold, you’ll easily make great ice cream.

Notes:

[1] If your ice cream maker does not allow you to add ingredients as you go, then stir in all the other ingredients now.

[2] Most cacao nibs would come from fermented and then roasted beans.  Pacari ferments their beans, but doesn’t roast them so that they can preserve more of the high antioxidant content and bright flavors of the original bean.

[3] I paid for all the ingredients used to make this recipe.

Madecasse Arabica Coffee Milk Chocolate 44% Cocoa Review

Madecasse Arabica Coffee Milk Chocolate

Madecasse now makes a small 25g bar shown next to the full size bar. The back side is loaded with cacao nibs while the front has smooth squares with a color deep enough to be dark chocolate.

The package says “A dark milk chocolate with a coffee crunch.” I’ve heard this oxymoron before – “dark milk chocolate,” and always found it a bit perplexing.  Is this a dark chocolate or a milk chocolate and why can’t it make up its mind?  Well it contains milk, so by definition, it’s simply milk chocolate.  Some chocolate makers like to say “dark milk chocolate” to highlight the high 44% cocoa content compared to, say, a cheap, commonplace milk chocolate bar you might find at the pharmacy.

This is no commonplace bar.  Madecasse has created a blend of cacao nibs and chocolate, both from Madagascan trees and tossed in some shade grown coffee from the mountains of Madagascar.  Unexpected, yes, but how does it taste?

TASTING single-origin Madagascar CHOCOLATE

WHAT:  Madecasse Arabica Coffee Milk Chocolate.  44% Cacao. 25 g mini bar. Ingredients: Sugar, whole milk powder, cocoa beans, cocoa butter, Arabica coffee, soy lecithin, vanilla powder, sea salt.

Where to buy Madecasse Chocolate Online.

WHEN:  June 21, 2012                                OVERALL RATING:  78.

AROMA:  Coffee dominates the nose with a fresh percolated scent. Behind it is some oak and molasses.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS:  Coffee and wine.

MIDDLE TASTE: The coffee is still there along with molasses, butter, and orange cream-sickle.

FINISH:  The two-part finish starts with smooth coffee milk and ends with nuts, celery and light wood.

TEXTURE:  The nibs add a lot of crunch, of course, but they seem to be ground finer than in most nib bars.

LAST BITE:  I think it was a good call for Madecasse to choose milk chocolate for this bar so that the chocolate and coffee don’t compete too much.  Ironically, I think this bar in search of an identity will win over more dark chocolate lovers than milk chocolate lovers.  It’s sort of like dropping a shot of whiskey into your glass of iced rose and pretending it’s a refreshing summertime cooler.  It’s not.  This bar has some strong and complex flavors – a good thing.  Have fun with it.  For me, I’d rather go with a real dark chocolate, so I’ll take the Sea Salt and Nibs Dark Chocolate bar any day as my favorite from Madecasse.

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Notes: I paid for this chocolate myself.